Chapter 10. Of “Bloodheads,” Gray Dragons, and Other “Ticking Time Bombs”


In the old days, 25 years ago, life was straightforward in China. If you lived in a town, you worked in a state-owned factory or office. If you lived in the countryside, you worked on a collective farm. You didn’t earn much, but that didn’t really matter because there wasn’t much to buy. Clothing options were largely limited to a choice of a dark gray Mao suit or a dark blue Mao suit. Only party officials got to use cars. For everyone else, private transport meant waiting months for the chance to buy a scarce Flying Pigeon bicycle.

In return for living the life of fathomless drabness, people’s basic needs were reasonably well looked after. Health care (though it was, in ...

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